Soil questions answered, Wal-Mart ready to build in North Auburn

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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What are dioxins?

Dioxins are a class of chemical contaminants formed during the burning of waste, forest byproducts, backyard trash and other fuels. The highest concentrations are usually found in soils. Humans are most likely to be exposed by eating foods contaminated with dioxins. High toxicity and persistence in the environment have led the Environmental Protection Agency to treat dioxins as a major health threat.

Source: The U.S. Geological Survey, citing several references


With lab tests back indicating soil clean enough on a North Auburn site to build on, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is poised to start construction early next year.

California Department of Toxic Substances Control tests on soil samples from the former Bohemia lumber mill allow commercial construction on the 18.6-acre property, located north of Luther Road.

The department’s Human and Ecological Risk Office determined concentrations of cancer-causing dioxins and furans were low enough to not block commercial or industrial development, said project manager Jerry Lile.

Lile’s San Joaquin and Legacy Landfills Office had requested that Wal-Mart allow the tests because historical photos showed a teepee burner on the Cal-Ida Lumber site targeted for the new store. Nearby residents and members of the Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community had raised concerns that a previous cleanup did not take place and that incomplete burning may have resulted in dioxins being released and deposited on the site.

Placer County approvals on the property were authorized in late 2011, but no work has been undertaken at the site since then.

Amelia McLear, a director of public affairs and government relations with the Bentonville, Ark. retailer, said Monday that, with the state determination showing no further testing or remediation measures are necessary, the soil sampling results represent a clearing of a final hurdle.

“It is now abundantly clear that the North Auburn Walmart site is safe to develop for commercial purposes, and on behalf of our customers, we are pleased with the results of the review,” McLear said.

Plans for a 155,000-square-foot Walmart store on a site were given county approval in December 2011. The local alliance organization was formed after the former Bohemia site’s previous owner – developer Jim Conkey of Roseville – started to move the parcel through the development process. At the time, he said the store would either be a Walmart or a Costco.

Wal-Mart expects the North Auburn project to go out-to-bid as soon as spring of next year, McLear said. Targeted opening date is 2015, she said.

After the county approval and Wal-Mart’s purchase of the property, the alliance called on the state to have a second look at the possibility of dioxins in soils. Lile’s conclusion was that soil tests showed the site is suitable for industrial-commercial uses but further investigation and analysis would have to be conducted to determine the site’s suitability for housing. There are not plans to build homes on the property.

Victoria Connolly, a member of the association questioning the site’s soil health, said the group had only seen the report Monday and wanted to look more closely at the numbers before making a comment.

“But it’s clear our concerns were not groundless,” Connolly said.